In public schools, disinterested teachers with dismal salaries, combined with a lack of regulatory frameworks for ensuring the quality of education, translates into poor capabilities of public school students.
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled,” observedPlutarch, the Greek historian and biographer. True to this spirit of learning, the Greeks laid the foundation of the modern academy, a place where the passions of enquiry could be evoked in yearning minds. To this day, the basic design and purpose of a school, where teachers provide instruction to students and prepare them for their future lives, remains essentially the same. It is no secret that education can provide a pathway for success in individual and collective life, and it is because of this reason that so much emphasis is put on educating the young minds of today, for they will become the leaders of tomorrow.
However, in Pakistan, this idea has been muddled beyond recognition for the majority of the population. For some, education holds no intrinsic value on its own and they end up just going through the motions of it all to get a ‘job-worthy’ degree. For others, the practical utility of going to school is undermined in some cases by the monetary benefits that could be accrued from other professions, as is the case with child labour. Apart from serving as an assembly line for churning out ‘employable’ students, the system of education and learning in Pakistan is not known for producing inquisitive minds that can spark the imaginations of entire generations. There are multiple reasons for this failure and the following lines will highlight a few, major hurdles that stand in the way of education reform in the country.
At the very outset, reliable data regarding literacy, enrollment, and student capabilities is very hard to come by. Even when the data is available, it is difficult to compare syllabi among localities, cities, regions or provinces because of the highly fragmented nature of the Pakistani education system. In our country, students can opt for a public school, a private one or attend a religious seminary (madrassa), where each category comes with its own set of pros and cons. Yes, the private sector schools have a good track record of producing academically sound alumni but not everyone can afford the high tuition fee. Instead, some opt to study in state-sponsored schools, where education is given free-of-cost all the way up to the primary (grade five), secondary (grade eight), or higher-secondary (grade 10/matric) levels, depending on your province of domicile.
In public schools, however, disinterested teachers with dismal salaries, combined with a lack of regulatory frameworks for ensuring the quality of education, translates into poor capabilities of public school students. The last recourse available for aspiring younglings is the seminary, where not only is the education relatively cheap — or in most cases free — but so are the dining and lodging facilities. Seminaries face no trouble in raising funding for financing their education wings, since they appeal to the religio-charitable susceptibilities of their donors. However, because of their insistence on suppressing dissenting minds and their propagation of millenarian ideologies, contemporary Pakistan is yet to see genuine research coming out of such places.
The problem is compounded further when you factor in the different curricula that are taught in each of these three categories of schools, as well as the dissimilar avenues of schooling available to the differing genders. Some schools emphasise the instruction of English language over everything else, whereas others reject western education in its entirety. Furthermore, gender discrimination manifests itself in terms of the number of primary, secondary and higher-level schools available for girls, and helps little in disrupting the rigid perception that affords only a limited role to females in our society.
However, even if we can control such imbalances, there is a major disconnect between the texts that students are made to learn in class and what they experience in their real lives. While some of the more theoretical aspects of the curriculum may never be used in practice, most of the stuff has to do with daily experience. Be it the sciences or the arts, the real purpose of education is to make sense of the world around us but Pakistani students remain forever stuck in an artificial divide between the classroom and everything outside of it.
However, even this aspect of Pakistan’s failed education system feels tame in the face of its most unforgiveable failure: the absence of critical thinking.The purpose of any and all education must be to teach children how to think, not what to think. But in a system where grades are more important than actual scholarship, rote learning aids in decoding the system of examinations that seldom challenge the exam takers and provide maximum benefits to the practitioners of cramming. In such cases, examinations become tests of memory rather than anything else and in this way fail to serve any purpose. Added to this are varying educational and professional opportunities available to students based on their unyielding socio-economic status and, altogether, the spirit of learning is lost somewhere in the battle between survival for some and employability for others.